Survey at Chephren's Quarry, Gebel el-Asr, Lower Nubia: 2002

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SUDAN & NUBIA Bulletin No. 6

The Sudan Archaeological Research Society

Contents Introduction

Vivian Davies





Vivian Davies


At the time of writing (mid-September 2002), the 10th International Conference for Nubian Studies has just finished, generously hosted by colleagues in the Università di Roma “La Sapienza”. The large number of papers delivered shows how rapidly the subject of Middle Nile studies is growing, with significant advances in knowledge achieved since the last conference held in Boston four years ago, an encouraging state of affairs, to which the content of this present volume bears further witness. There was, however, one hugely important issue which overshadowed the event: the looming crisis of the new dam at the Fourth Cataract. As reported by the Sudanese delegation, preparatory work for the dam has now begun and actual building will start in two years. It is expected to take a further seven years to complete. In an unwelcome echo of the Aswan High Dam scheme, the reservoir created will flood over 170km of the Nile Valley between the Fourth Cataract and Abu Hamed, enveloping, as we now know from preliminary surveys, thousands of archaeological sites - artefact scatters, settlements, cemeteries and rock-drawings dating from the Palaeolithic to the Islamic Periods. Very little is known about these sites; for the most part only that they exist. Our Sudanese colleagues are urgently appealing for assistance, so that as much as possible of the record may be investigated and documented before the area is lost to knowledge for ever. In response, SARS is this winter launching a campaign of rescue excavation in a region which we recently surveyed (see Sudan & Nubia 4 [2000], 51-7), but an extensive international effort will be required if any serious impact is to be made. Our next international colloquium, to be held at the British Museum on 8 May 2003, will focus on the dam emergency. All colleagues with an interest in helping are invited to attend.

Survey at Chephren’s Quarry, Gebel el-Asr, 25 Lower Nubia: 2002 Per Storemyr, Elizabeth Bloxam, Tom Heldal and Abdou Salem The 2001-2002 Season of Excavation at Kerma: a summary Charles Bonnet


Publishing Amara West: a progress report Patricia Spencer


The Kushite Town and Cemetery at Kawa, the 2001-2002 season Survey and excavations Derek A. Welsby


Front Cover: An apostle from the mural in the chapel at Banganarti containing the king’s portrait.

The Second Excavation Season at R12, a Late Neolithic 2 Cemetery in the Northern Dongola Reach Sandro Salvatori and Donatella Usai

Nubians on Elephantine Island Dietrich Raue

Survey and Excavations between Old Dongola and ez-Zuma . Bogdan Zurawski



Ceramic Traditions and Cultural Territories: the “Nubian Group” in Prehistory Maria Carmela Gatto



Stabilisation and Investigation of the Wall Paintings 38 Claire Heywood Does Aten Live On in Kawa (Kówwa)? Herman Bell and Muhammad Jalal Hashim


Preliminary Report on Rescue Excavations at Akad Mohamed Faroug A. Ali


Eastern Desert Ware, a first introduction Hans Barnard


Old Nubian Houses of Sehel Island Ossama A. W. Abdel Meguid


Archaeological Discoveries along the East Bank of the White Nile, 1997-2000 Khider Adam Eisa


The Is.I.A.O. el-Salha Archaeological Project Donatella Usai and Sandro Salvatori





Survey at Chephren’s Quarry, Gebel el-Asr, Lower Nubia: 2002 Per Storemyr, Elizabeth Bloxam, Tom Heldal and Abdou Salem Introduction Chephren’s Quarry defines quarry workings that cover an area of approximately 50km² south of Wadi Tushka, 65km northwest of Abu Simbel (Figure 1). A geological investigation of the quarry was undertaken under the aegis of the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority (EGSMA) in June 2002 by geologists Per Storemyr, Tom Heldal and Abdou Salem and archaeologist Elizabeth Bloxam. The objectives were to study the gneiss deposits and survey (by GPS) the extent of the ancient quarries (Figure 2). This paper gives a brief summary of the survey and also highlights the acute current threat to the site by the Tushka land reclamation project.

Figure 2. GPS-based map of Chephren’s Quarry, surveyed in 2002.

Historical significance Chephren’s Quarry is the only known source in Egypt of the highly characteristic bluish gneisses used for elite funerary objects, particularly during the Old Kingdom. The stone has been classified as ‘anorthosite gneiss’, ‘diorite gneiss’ and ‘gabbro gneiss’ (we will use anorthosite gneiss in this article) and has an appearance ranging from light grey with dark speckled areas to dark and light banded. The main minerals are light grey to bluish white plagioclase and black hornblende. The banded variety was used for the famous 4th Dynasty Khafra life-sized statues (Harrell and Brown 1994, 53), and thus represents one of the oldest uses of stone for statues worldwide. The most intensive period of exploitation occurred during the late 2nd Dynasty into the early 4th Dynasty for stone vessel manufacture, as exemplified by the huge quantities of anorthosite gneiss vessels found in 2nd Dynasty King Khasekemwy’s tomb at Abydos and 3rd Dynasty Djoser’s Step Pyramid at Saqqara. However, its history of exploitation goes back to the Late Neolithic as revealed from recent excavations of a Middle to Late Neolithic burial site by Schild and Wendorf (2001, 16-17) at Gebel Ramlah, 25km northwest of Gebel Nabta, where a cup made from the stone was found amongst an assemblage of rich grave goods.

Figure 1. Map of Egypt.







Figure 4. Features of the Tushka Project and location of Chephren’s Quarry. Map compiled from observations and various internet sources.


Harrell, J. A. and V. M. Brown 1994. ‘Chephren’s Quarry in the Nubian Desert of Egypt’, Nubica 3/1, 43-57. Klemm, D. and R. Klemm 1993. Steine und Steinbrüche im Alten Aegypten. Berlin/Heidelberg/New York. Murray, G. W. 1939. ‘The Road to Chephren’s Quarries’, The Geographical Journal XCIV, No. 2, 97-114. Schild, R. and F. Wendorf 2001. ‘The Combined Prehistoric Expedition Results of the 2001 Season’, ARCE Bulletin 180, 16-17. Shaw, I. M. E. and E. G. Bloxam 1999. ‘Survey and Excavation at the Ancient Pharaonic Gneiss Quarrying Site of Gebel el-Asr, Lower Nubia’, Sudan & Nubia 3, 13-20.

A recently received communication from the SCA informed us that action will be taken to protect part of Chephren’s Quarry. A visit was made to the site by the SCA in August and after consultation with the contractors of the Tushka Project it was agreed to protect 25 feddans of the site from the Canal 3 development. However, emergency survey and excavation are still planned to take place in early 2003 to document those areas of the site that do not fall within the area being designated as a protected archaeological site.

Acknowledgments We would like to thank Dr. Ahmed Swedan (President of the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority, EGSMA) for granting us permission to undertake this work and for his help in the organisation of the project. Thanks also to Mr. Hamdy for getting us to the site and to Mahmoud el-Shendidy for his help in bringing the threat to Chephren’s Quarry to the attention of the SCA. For this we are extremely grateful.

Bibliography Bloxam, E. G. 2000. ‘Transportation of Quarried Hard Stone from Lower Nubia to Giza during the Egyptian Old Kingdom’, in A. McDonald and C. Riggs (eds). Current Research in Egyptology 2000. BAR International Series 909, Oxford, 19-27. Bloxam, E.G. 2001 (in press). ‘The Organisation and Mobilisation of Old Kingdom Quarry Labour Forces at Chephren’s Quarry (Gebel el-Asr) Lower Nubia’, in Current Research in Egyptology 2001. BAR International Series, Oxford. Engelbach, R. 1933. ‘The Quarries of the Western Nubian Desert. A Preliminary Report’, ASAE 33, 65-80. Engelbach, R. 1938. ‘The Quarries of the Western Nubian Desert and the Ancient Road to Tushka’, ASAE 38, 369-390.


Plate XII. Gebel el-Asr. One of the few anorthosite gneiss boulders left in the quarry area.

Plate XIII. Gebel el-Asr. Typical ancient work area in Pounder Quarry. Note the excavations of Canal 4 of the Tushka project in the background.


Plate XIV. Gebel elAsr. Typical waste dump, Khufu Stele Quarry.

Plate XV. Gebel el-Asr. Typical quarry layout at Pounder Quarry. The excavations of Canal 4 of the Tushka project are visible in the background.

Plate XVI. Gebel el-Asr. Trimmed blocks ready for transport, Chisel Quarry.